A passionate youth services librarian, with a winning smile to boot! [photo courtesy of the Emerging Leaders profiles for American Libraries Magazine.]
Ninjas, we’d like you all to meet Brian Hart, an outstanding youth services librarian and the July Storytime Guerrilla of the Month. We met Brian at Guerrilla Storytimes at ALA in Las Vegas last month, where he shared some great storytime skills and perspective. Brian is a Children’s Services Manager at the Beatties Ford Regional Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and he was a 2014 Emerging Leader
. We’re pleased as punch that he agreed to share his awesome as a guerrilla of the month.
Q: What’s your philosophy for choosing books and activities for storytime?
Brian: It often depends on the season, theme or objective of the program, but I try pay particular attention to the books’ vocabulary and illustrations when selecting which ones I will share during storytimes. I like for children to hear new words and expand their vocabulary so the manner in which an author writes and structures their sentences and stories is important to me.
Similarly, I feel that books are also a great way to expose children to art, so when choosing books I try to select those with awe-inspiring pictures that children and parents might connect with and appreciate.
Q: How do you make sure your storytimes are accessible to different audiences?
Brian: Accessibility and appropriateness are two facets of storytimes that are particularly important to me. I try to make sure that program offerings are varied, both in terms of the time of day and target audiences. I like to offer storytimes in the mornings, evenings and weekends to ensure that all persons have an opportunity to attend regardless of their work schedules or other commitments.
I also like to make sure our storytimes and other program offerings are varied enough to include something for all ages, interests and abilities. For instance, at the branch where I serve as Children’s Services Manager we offer a variety of preschool storytimes, baby storytimes, sensory programs for children who are “differently-abled” and book clubs focusing on a variety of themes and genres. While I certainly do not lead every program, I always encourage and appreciate my team making sure that no child’s needs or interest are ignored – and they have yet to disappoint!
Q: What have you learned through your storytime experience that you wish you had known when you started out?
Brian: With experience I have become more comfortable merely being myself during storytimes. When I first began leading storytimes, I felt that in order for the storytime to “measure up” to the children/adults’ expectations I had to follow a script/routine that they were accustomed to based on what they’d experienced in the past. However, I’ve grown to trust in my own abilities/knowledge and along the way have I have also realized that both children and adults appreciate variety.
Therefore, as opposed to sticking so closely to a “script” that may include alternating between a book and song, I now deviate from the script regularly and often allow the audience to share in the process – either by encouraging them to request songs they’d like to sing as a group, help “freestyle” finger plays or share anecdotes/stories themselves as I offer “suggestions” to the parents on how they might be able to simulate the experience and have success reading with their child at home.
Q: What one storytime skill are you really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Brian: One of the more significant aspects of our roles as librarians is our responsibility to inform, connect and inspire. In addition to helping children develop early literacy skills, storytimes present an opportunity for us to share tools and literacy tips with parents, caregivers and childcare providers. In my experience I’ve found adult participants to be really appreciative and even inspired when they are given new pointers about relating to their child while sharing books.
Therefore, I like to take the time to engage and connect with the adults present during my storytimes and feel I have developed somewhat of a niche for doing so. I sometimes accomplish this through the welcome activities or even casual conversation prior to the program, which I use as an opportunity to connect and relate to parents and set the tone for storytime as a shared experience between them and their child. I’d like to think that I’ve become pretty good at this aspect of storytime and have established a really good rapport with the parents.
Also, as with most storytellers and children librarians, I love to incorporate music into the process. I enjoy writing my own songs, “tweaking” popular storytime sing-a-longs and using the instrumentals to pop, r&b or jazz songs that hopefully both parents and children will identify with and enjoy. This has also been an effective means of encouraging the parents to embrace and participate in the storytime process with their children.
Q: You’ve recently “emerged” from ALA’s Emerging Leader program. What can you share about your EL project? How might it connect to youth services?
Brian: The Emerging Leader project that I worked on was centered around the Librarians Build Communities initiative, which was a project that began many years ago and focused primarily on pairing interested library professionals with libraries and other organizations in need of skilled volunteers.
The team I served on was charged with the responsibility of creating a more sustainable means for the Librarians Build Communities initiative to grow and flourish as opposed to tapering off between Emerging Leader classes. We successfully established a Member Initiative Group (MIG) for Librarians Build Communities and now each of my Emerging Leader teammates serve as a de facto steering committee for Librarians Build Communities.
While this project was not directly related to children or youth services, it is centered around the idea of helping build/restore communities, and any community’s most viable resource is its children, so in a roundabout way, I suppose, building communities through service and volunteerism is a good example to set for both children and children services providers.